Sequential Art in the Public Library: Sorting, Shelving, and Service


M. C. Escher. (1948). Fish / Duck / Lizard Image (No.  69): Ink, watercolor. Retrieved from the website of the M.C. Escher Foundation and the M.C. Escher Company, B.V. at

Many public libraries are laying out the welcome mat for comics readers and sequential art (i.e., ‘graphic novels’ and ‘comics’).  Firm footing for connecting readers with titles is supported by effective cataloging, careful placement in library collections, and ongoing study.

This exploration highlights two related sources, and this blogger’s recommendations are listed.

Karen Green (November 9, 2010) speaks to a number of challenges in the academic library.  Although the Library of Congress (LoC) Classification Outline can be used to collocate graphic novels or comics by branch of learning (e.g., Theatre) [para. 2-3], this may not always place related items where one might expect to find them (para. 4-8).  For example, some items from one learning area may be on the ‘Literature’ shelves and others from the same area may be on the ‘Fine Arts/Drawing’ shelves.  Some items may not be categorized as ‘graphic novels’ because they were added to the collection before this LoC format heading existed.  Green notes that comics creators may not adhere to conventions that facilitate collecting or cataloging, such as applying for ISBNs and seeking nationally recognized cataloging copy (para. 14).  Given these considerations, Green has a personal record that tracks collections in order to help patrons who might not find what they want in the library catalog (para. 15).

Lessons in library science and public-library practicalities can be gleaned from Green’s comments.  These include the work that must be done to meet challenges in acquiring graphic novels and establishing them as searchable in both the catalog and on the shelf.  At this time, collecting graphic novels in the public library might only be acquired from certain vendors, and collection development might require scholarly review.  As a result, public librarians may not have access to materials in the comic market that are ‘underground’ or self-published.  Public librarians can consider the following ideas.

Quinn Recommendations

  • Pay attention to cataloging of new items to ensure that ‘Graphic novels’ is in the record to facilitate searching.
  • While weeding, identify old records for updating.
  • As per Green, keep note of as many details as possible concerning individual items in collections. This can expand and enhance skills in searching and readers’ advisory.
  • Visit local comics stores and bookstores to learn about items available.
  • During reference interviews, ask patrons about comics they read or like.
  • Seek out professional development opportunities related to graphic novels classification.

Laurel Tarulli (2010) speaks to challenges with the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, technical services operations, and changing library practices.  The article includes  an intense medley of earnest efforts to serve patrons, maintain cataloging excellence, and ensure high quality collection development.

Because graphic novels and comics might be processed in a technical services department before they reach a reference librarian, they might be catalogued according to “traditional . . . models” or catalogued without information such as illustrator names (Tarulli, 2010, p. 213).  In addition, current and recent cataloging may have placed graphic fiction and comics within the 741.5s and graphic non-fiction within a myriad of non-fiction collections.  Further, patrons may be interested in browsing comics by publisher or being presented with a variety of items collocated by character [not by format] (Tarulli, 2010, p. 219; What is, 2016, para. 2).

Tarulli also points to the importance of a “long-term view” that accommodates readers’ needs concerning series on shelves and in the catalog (p. 216), and processes such as applying “graphic novel sticker[s]” to identify new items before they hit the shelves.  The discussion goes on to include practices that may inadvertently censor materials, networking that can support the excellence of the library services, and possibilities such as opportunities to browse by catalog images instead of items in hand (pp. 218-220).

This blogger’s recommendations that follow are focused on public libraries.  They aim to consider Tarulli’s observations, to acknowledge that “pop culture moves quickly” (Lyga & Lyga, 2004, p. 13), to allow for prompt but careful change, to uphold a “long-term view” for assessing library practices, and to incorporate patrons’ needs.

Quinn Recommendations

  • Place distinct stickers on the spines of graphic novels and comics – both new acquisitions and items already held. This is both a service for patrons and a stopgap process that does not alter cataloging and location until they have been carefully assessed.
  • Have local technical services staff meet with on-the-desk librarians to discuss cataloging and processing.
  • Support awareness of graphic novels and comics with displays.
  • Be aware that not all public librarians learned about graphic novels and comics in library school.
  • Attend or ask for seminars about graphic novels and comics at library systems.
  • Discuss the possibility of working relationships with local comics stores.
  • Create a short survey (on paper and online) that invites patrons to voice their needs concerning graphic novels and comics in the library. The paper surveys could be placed at reference desks and on the shelves where such items are located in the library.
  • Offer graphic-novels/comics discussion programs for children’s age groups (About good, 2016, para. 2) and for adults, where readers and librarians can share their enjoyment (Jacobson, 2010, p. 29) and knowledge about individual titles or this literature in general.


About good comics for kids. (2016). Retrieved from the Good Comics for Kids blog of School Library Journal at

Green, K. (November 9, 2010). ‘Whaddaya got?’: Finding graphic novels in an academic library.  Retrieved from the website of Publishers Weekly at

Jacobson, A. (2010). Party on! at your book discussions: Shouldn’t a book club be for the fun of sharing? American Libraries, 41(8). Retrieved from!%20At%20your%22~~SP~28~~IU~8~~SN~0002-9769~~VO~41&lm=DA~120100000&sw=w

Lyga, A. A. W., & Lyga, B. (2004). Graphic novels in your media center: A definitive guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Nyberg, A. K. (2010). How librarians learned to love the graphic novel. In Weinger, R. (Ed.). Graphic novels and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on readers, research, history and cataloging. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Tarulli, Laurel. (2010). Cataloging and problems with Dewey: Creativity, collaboration and compromise. In Weiner, R. G. (Ed.). Graphic novels and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on readers, research, history and cataloging. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

What is appeal?/Some examples/Character. (2016). Retrieved from the website of Novelist at


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